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How “normal”, really, was the old normal?

What exactly do we in America mean by “normal?” Just how “normal” were things to begin with?

(Image: NASA/

Flatten the curve. Radio, television, and Internet authorities drummed the message into us at the beginning of the COVID drama early in 2020.

That little mantra has long since been dropped, of course. In the interval we have been lectured about the wickedness of those who wear masks, and then later about the wickedness of those who refuse to wear masks; funerals for our loved ones have been suppressed as public health hazards, even as anyone daring to criticize rioters and looters has been castigated as a racist.

Almost from the very beginning, those rare souls who would emphasize modest, commonsense countermeasures against the epidemic were drowned out by opportunistic grandstanding, apocalyptic fear-mongering, and messianic rhetoric about the salvific power of “Science.” Let anybody infuriated and disillusioned by this state of affairs rest assured: I get it.

Much as I am myself fed up with COVID hype, however, whenever I hear someone demand to know when things will finally get back to normal, I can’t help but raise what seems to me a self-evident follow-up question: What exactly do we mean by “normal?” Just how “normal” were things to begin with?

First and most obviously, there is the abnormality of a society wherein mothers frequently opt to have their own children murdered. Yet it seems to me important for us to admit that abortion is only the most glaring symptom of a more pervasive underlying disease. Only those who have had their heads in the sand would hope to see our nursing homes get back to “normal,” for instance. Having heard unsavory accounts from overworked orderlies while teaching medical ethics at the Louisville community college, having an attorney brother who handles nursing home abuse cases, and having once gotten to know some nursing home residents as part of a Great Books discussion project at a facility in Maryland, I cannot but find the notion of “normalcy” with respect to nursing homes inane. Even many ancient pagan societies were sound enough to recognize elders as irreplaceable, living repositories of experience – the memory of the tribe. Enlightened America regards elders much as it regards children – as liabilities, obstacles which interfere with the frantic pursuit of happiness via mass consumption.

Just to be clear, none of this is intended to stigmatize those who for whatever reason are in no position to care for a sick or aging relative. The point is not to pass sweeping judgments over every last unique situation, but to recognize that much of what is taken for normal in American life is anything but, and was so long before Wuhan hit the news. Schools must stay open, I have heard, not for the sake of education but because many children come from single-parent homes, or from households where the mother has to work, and so if schools close said children have no one to look after them. Likewise, it goes against family values to limit interstate travel, we may be told, because then all the children and siblings who have scattered themselves across a half-dozen states cannot cross the lines to make the occasional family reunion.

Until we can reconsider some unspoken premises in the preceding arguments, we will remain a lost people.

Moreover, lockdowns really are normal, truly so, and under the right circumstances are as beneficial and American as apple pie. Those too invested in the ideology of democratic capitalism may find it distasteful, but if we look a few decades further into the past we find that pretty much every small town – and even some parts of cities – used to undergo an all-day, intensive lockdown once a week. Literally, every single week. And let it be emphasized that this was not under some socialist dictatorship, not in Communist China, not even under the Obama administration, but in America during her very heyday. Once upon a time it was customary on every seventh day for families to be stuck together, for road traffic to dwindle to an economically unproductive and inefficient trickle, for businesses to close up, for public offices to shut down, for libraries to lock their doors, and for sporting events to be postponed. In some places, in living memory, it has even been illegal on such lockdown days for a person to hunt with firearms on his own property. Liberal fascism, indeed.

That said, there was one big difference between the old-time weekly lockdowns and the more recent one: During the lockdowns back then, churches remained very open. We can contrast all this with the “normal” of 2019, for which churchgoing seems to have been one lifestyle option among many and American life as a whole was patterned upon that of New York City: go, go, go, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I can’t help but wonder if our collective refusal to submit to mild, salutary limitations like the Sabbath “lockdowns” of yesteryear has had something to do with putting us in our current predicament.

Extreme freedom always leads to extreme slavery, so Plato tells us (Republic, Book VIII 564a). Looking at the state of American culture and morals, we would be hard-pressed to come up with a more chilling thought.

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About Jerry Salyer 58 Articles
Catholic convert Jerry Salyer is a philosophy instructor and freelance writer.


  1. Boy, are you going to get blasted! Even George Washington was okay with placing some restrictions on the public when there were outbreaks of different diseases. But, who cares about truth these days.

    • I dont recall hearing that George Washington ever authorized restrictions on the public due to disease. I DO recall him making use of the rudimentary vaccination procedure then in place to help inoculate his troops during the war for I believe chicken pox, to prevent active duty military numbers dropping to dangerous levels due to sickness. Flatten the curve was all well and good, and all agreed well intended. But two weeks is NOT the same as 9 months,which is where we are now. A time period which appears to be extending itself indefinitely. The usurpation of raw power and the abrogation of constitutional rights like assembly and religion which have taken place since then in the blue states in particular has led the country into a dictatorship. That is exactly what is happening. No matter the media drama, 300 thousand deaths is actually NOT a lot in a nation of almost 400 Million, where millions have sickened and then recovered from the disease.

  2. I don’t see where the lockdowns have done any good, overall. They’ve caused extreme personal strife, financial ruin, and any education that ‘sticks’ has virtually come to a halt. The government debt level has risen to try and stem the economic effect of the virus, which appears to be just as prevalent or more so than last spring, even allowing for the better testing. People who need to work to ‘make the rent’ were told they were laid off, only to be lost in state’s unemployment systems. Politicians using the virus for power grabs which ended up highlighting their lack of intellect, but still touted by the media.

    About the only thing that works (non vac) is social distancing and some type of facial covering and fresh air. A lot of hand wringing which did no good

    • Sorry, if you really think that the draconian mandates foisted upon us by our “leaders” have worked, you haven’t been paying attention. Masks, “social distancing”, & bogus “vaccines” aren’t the answer – the China flu is still with us, remember? We have NO idea on earth ow this “vaccine” will treat us in the long-term, & there’s plenty of room for doubt about the safety & efficacy of a medicinal cocktail put out for public use in less than 6 months. Masks are actual magnets for airborne bugs, not the protection that weak-minded people seem to think. And we sit there with others, masks off, chewing food, gums flapping, assuming that we’re “safe”, but we have to wear them in a grocery store – really? Sorry, I don’t buy it. Wear your face diaper if you think it keeps you safe; get the vaccine if you think it will work. But I’m not buying it – not for a FLU. Look at the REAL numbers – there haven’t been 300k deaths in the USA from the WuFlu, the actual number is less than half of that, which means it’s a slightly more active flu season than normal. We need to stop with the lies – it’s a FLU, nothing more.

      • certainly staying apart helps and the masks will keep you from sneezing or coughing droplets directly into someone’s face 1) I don’t like the masks and can’t get enough air when I wear one — unless they’re vented I don’t think they’re healthy to wear long term – I won;t go into an ER or similar office when the flu is going around either

        I still believe staying apart and fresh air prevent the spread better than a mask – I wear glasses and if the moist air that fogs them up means anything then the masks do not prevent the covid from leaving your airways and body area. The old noisy radiators that put out so much heat in old buildings came about from the 1918-20 pandemic — people could stay inside but had the windows wide open for nonstale air.

        Our beloved governess in Mich will not allow us to eat in a restaurant – yet you can go to any retail store and buy nonessential items — total nonsense.

  3. The real normal has not existed in the US for decades. A normal of the people look to God to save, sustain, guide, nourish, and to bring Peace and Good Will to all..
    Not this OH please Mr. government save us. Most directly the poor of the World, who try to endure the mass extermination of themselves. As the poor, are exterminated, in the demand of a few, for wealth, oil ( devil dung) as an example.
    Normal is when, the majority call for Charity to all, malice to none.. Government borrowing Billions and Trillions today, is not charity, but malice to future generations to come in the US, and World.

    • And what, may I ask, are you specifically doing to help the poor and needy around you? Since you claim to be so concerned about the poor, what are you actually doing to alleviate suffering and meet people’s needs? How are you practicing what you are falsely accusing people of not doing?

  4. Planet Earth, our common home appeared tired, exhausted and unable to cope with the demands made on it during the regime of the “old normal”. One wonders whether such a situation can be termed as normal? Thus wrote Mahatma Gandhi: “An error does not become truth by reason of multiplied propagation, nor does truth become error because nobody sees it”.

  5. The Catechism and the teachings of, defining of the Bible, is back to a True Norm.
    The value of education to truth, prayer, value of chastity, recognition the greatest assets and wealth is, the Children, the Youth, the Future Generations.
    Yet, to never borrow money (nor should a government), war is murder, to pay an honest days wages for a honest days work,
    The economics of monopolization and hording of wealth is wrong.
    To feed the hungry, cloth naked, to give drink to the dry, and shelter, but never a wall.
    The norm is forgotten in the USA, of charity to all, malice to none.
    But fortunately, God will bring us to our knees, and back to him, we hope and pray.
    We pray this, for the Youth, that God Brings US to our knees, for them. Making it very clear, this is wrong, an evil norm.

    • No one is monopolizing or hoarding wealth. That is just one more false and unsubstantiated accusation you are making, which seems to be your pattern. There is a legal process required for those who seek to enter the U.S. If people cannot respect our laws and customs, then the government has a right and responsibility to address that as it sees fit, including building a wall.

      We are under no obligation to feed the poor or clothe people as a nation. Those are acts of charity left to individual conscience. As I have stated on previous occasions, stop pointing your fingers at us and address the selfishness and self-righteousness in your own heart.

  6. “What exactly do we mean by “normal?” Just how “normal” were things to begin with?”

    Right and wrong can’t be determined by public opinion, nor by common/normal practice, but by reason in consideration of human nature. Things may not have been moral (whenever there was “normality”), but there wasn’t systematic injustice, and fear running rampant.

    “Those too invested in the ideology of democratic capitalism may find it distasteful, but if we look a few decades further into the past we find that pretty much every small town – and even some parts of cities – used to undergo an all-day, intensive lockdown once a week.”

    I am not aware of this being done by government “command.” It was a custom. However, there still were (and are) certain restrictions in place. In my state, one can’t purchase wine before 10:00 a.m. on Sundays. This is unjust.

    There is a world of difference between voluntary and/or relatively mild restrictions, and unnatural ones which are indefinite, and which directly impact livelihoods, pretty much all social events, and even one’s rights to breath and communicate normally.

    Who is one of the most iconic movie villains? Darth Vader. Why was this so? What made him scary?

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